Posted on Monday, April 4, 2011
Palm Beach Circuit Chief Judge Peter Blanc has advised foreclosure attorney David J. Stern that he gave improper notice to withdraw from his firm’s cases and will consider dismissals as a last-ditch solution if no one picks up cases for mortgage lenders.
In a March 4 letter to Blanc, Stern begged off taking any more action in his firm’s 100,000 pending Florida foreclosure cases after Thursday and advised the judge “to treat the pending cases on the enclosed list as you deem appropriate.”
Blanc responded Friday by saying Stern wasn’t off the hook. The judge said Stern’s plan for dropping cases “is neither a recognized nor an approved method of termination” and could not be accepted. He left open the possibility of dismissal to rectify the bureaucratic tie-up caused by Stern’s mass withdrawals.
The Plantation law firm and DJSP, Stern’s back-office foreclosure processing operation, are under investigation by the state attorney general’s office on allegations that fraudulent documents were used to seize homes. The law firm once represented Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the nation’s largest mortgage lenders, but major clients fell away in the wake of the investigation announcement.
Blanc plans to begin setting batches of Stern’s pending cases for case management conferences. Stern is responsible for notifying the parties “to determine the actual status of representation in the cases you have listed” and must advise current and former clients to provide the court with notice of new counsel, the judge wrote.
Stern said that was no longer possible with his “extremely limited staff” following rounds of layoffs.
Thomas Ice of Ice Legal, a Royal Palm Beach foreclosure defense firm, said Blanc’s response is more of a convenience to the banks that were Stern’s clients.
“This arrangement is very unfair to homeowners because [Blanc] is proposing to group these case management conferences by plaintiff. That’s for their convenience.
It’s certainly not for my convenience,” Ice said. “We’re going to have to sit through all of these case management conferences, sit through a massive docket just to get to our case.”
The banks and their foreclosure law firms caused the quagmire in court, and Ice said they should bear the inconvenience after firing their attorneys.
“Why not group them by defense attorney?” he asked. “Let’s go have the Ice Legal morning.”
The court will send copies of case management calendars to attorneys registered to use the courts’ online scheduling system.
Ice said that would work fine for defense attorneys who access the system, but he foresees problems.
“For everyone who’s not [registered] such as pro se homeowners, that’s a huge problem. They already have this in Miami. It’s not working,” Ice said.
Pro se litigants would be entirely dependent on Stern for notification.
Blanc offers homeowners some relief, but it does not necessarily apply to pro se litigants.
“For those cases in which no one appears on behalf of the plaintiff, the court reserves the right to enter an order of dismissal,” Blanc stated.
Adolfo Pesquera, DAILY BUSINESS REVIEW